Thursday, October 13, 2011

Then I’m strong…

Last March, I tried making a “poor man’s green bean casserole.” And it was bad. Very bad. Desperately terrible. Multiple things went wrong- substandard ingredients, haphazard planning. But the biggest issue was, I realized latter, my overcompensating for weak sauce.

Here’s what happened. I gathered stirred everything together and let the casserole bake. After pulling it from the oven, I dutifully dipped in my tasting spoon. But it didn’t taste like I’d expected; indeed, it barely tasted at all! So to ‘spice things up,’ I added extra ingredients, then seasoned the concoction with (way too much) salt. When the next tasting revealed I’d overdone the saltiness, I added more extra ingredients and tasted again. This led to another round of seasoning, then another round of spices, until the flavor profile became more muddled than my fifth grade band practice.

Now, I’m certain experienced cooks would have much to critique. But what I learned from the failure was the value of incremental pacing. Especially when a sauce is weak, ‘shock and awe’ is not the best strategy for making it edible. Pinches of paprika perhaps, a miniscule measurement of marjoram…maybe. But handfuls of sodium and ounces of cayenne can put sauce past the point of no return. Quickly. I should’ve remembered my Aesop’s fables, and proceeded tortoise like- Slow and Steady. It may not have worked anyway, but would’ve given the food a fighting chance.

I mention this regrettable episode in light of something I did last week. As part of this year’s CROP Walk, I fasted for a day in solidarity with the hungry folk for whom we walked. I’ve fasted before, and each time is unique. So what struck me this time was how weak I felt as the day went on. Certainly, the feeling was relative. Skipping a few meals is far from what famine-stricken Somalis are currently enduring. Nevertheless, as I performed simple tasks or ran errands, what started with slight hunger pains become a full-bodied yearning for sustenance. And what surprised most was how distracting that was; the large disruption this emerging weakness imposed on my ability to focus or think.

Which prompted a spiritual question: When you feel weak, is it helpful to summon all your strength and try overwhelming weakness with a kind of spiritual/psychical ‘shock and awe’? Or is that counter-productive? Take, for example, the experience of starting something new (a ministry at church, workout regime, pattern of behavior, prayer routine). Almost regardless of what it is, a newbie will feel vulnerable, even ‘weak.’ Yes, you might really want to do this new thing; saw how meaningful it was for others. But it requires learning much you don’t know, building skills you don’t have, letting go of old habits and occasionally failing. Some, of course, try the shock and awe method- work at it real hard, non-stop until they no longer feel uncomfortable. But how many diets have been scuttled by pushing too hard, too soon? Getting good at something takes repetition, and so for most folk, patience.

A favorite section of mine in the Bible deals with cultivating patience as regards weakness. It may not work for everything, but it’s worth pondering. In 2 Corinthians 12, regarding an unnamed weakness, Paul hears God say, “My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, rather than battle what troubled him with the strength of his psychological fortitude, instead Paul practiced turning it over to God. Which wasn’t a one-time experience. But that makes sense. Ever asked for forgiveness? Or tried forgiving someone else? Didn’t happen all at once, did it? But, if you took time to cultivate spiritual endurance by regularly admitting your need for God’s grace, that may not have made things easy, but I’d bet it helped. A lot!

Certainly, when I felt weak while fasting, it was better to admit that feeling and release it to God, rather than scold myself for not trying harder to focus better. With that tactic, the weakness didn’t dissipate immediately. But as I repeated, slowly but surely I felt better.

Now if only I can replicate in my cooking…

Grace and Peace,
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